vintage vision of the profession of reporter
By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote that “The characteristics of the American journalist consist in an open and coarse appeal to the passions of his readers; he abandons principles to assail the characters of individuals, to track them into private life and disclose all their weaknesses and vices.”
Of course, de Tocqueville was writing about mid-nineteenth century, rough-and-tumble American journalism, when there were few rules and plenty of competition for the reader’s attention and penny. But do Tocqueville’s remarks apply today? Are the media practitioners of partisan journalism?
Media Fails in Its Reporting
Evidence has begun to mount that this may be the case. Just this month, ABC News reported that former national security advisor Michael Flynn, having pled guilty to lying to the FBI, was now prepared to testify that President Trump told him to contact Russian officials while Trump was still a candidate. However, it is common for presidential transition teams to contact and reach out to foreign governments.
ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross was suspended for botching this story. He claimed that Trump gave Flynn the order while he was a presidential candidate, “which raised the specter of impeachment and sent the Dow careening,” Fox News reported.
Ross and ABC News later issued a retraction, but the damage was already done.
ABC News is not the only news source to fall victim to partisan reporting. Reuters and Bloomberg Newsreported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation had subpoenaed Deutsche Bank seeking information on Trump and his family’s financial activities.
This report suggested that Mueller was expanding his initial Russian collusion investigation into other areas, including Trump’s vast financial dealings. The report was later corrected after Trump’s lawyer John Dowd protested the error.
“We have confirmed that the news reports that the Special Counsel had subpoenaed financial records relating to the president are false. No subpoena has been issued or received. We have confirmed this with the bank and other sources,” Dowd wrote.
Other Media Affiliates Experience Problems in False Reporting
CNN Money fell victim to partisan reporting in July, when the network aired that “Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. had received an email providing a web address and decryption key allowing them to access hacked documents from WikiLeaks before such documents were publicly available.”
According to the story, the email from an anonymous source came on September 4, 2016. However, The Washington Post reported later in the day that the email actually was sent on September 14, ten days after the WikiLeaks release date.
This isn’t the first black eye for CNN. In June, three prominent journalists, one of whom was a Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote a report falsely linking former Trump advisor Anthony Scaramucci to a Russian direct investment fund. The basis for the story was a false report that Scaramucci had met with a Russian official from the fund.
The New York Times and the Associated Press had to issue retractions in June for a January story. The two news outlets had reported that 17 U.S. intelligence agencies had issued a report that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
In fact, only four intelligence agencies signed off on the report. In addition, the analysts who investigated the story were all hand-picked by their agencies.
Partisan Reporting Infected the 2016 Presidential Election
Even during the 2016 presidential campaign, CNN faced the unfortunate spotlight when contributor Donna Brazile, the interim Democratic National Committee chairwoman, shared the questions she planned to ask Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during her upcoming debate with Senator Bernie Sanders. CNN later severed ties with Brazile.
Failure to Abide by a Code of Journalism Ethics
Journalists and media affiliates have failed to understand their own code of ethics espoused by “The Society of Professional Journalists.” This organization believes that “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.”
The code of ethics also states that “Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough.”
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) in an interview on California’s KQED News, said, “The rumor on the Hill when I left yesterday was that the president was going to make a significant speech at the end of next week. And on December 22, when we are out of D.C., he was going to fire Robert Mueller.”
It is not ethical to run a story based primarily on a rumor without verifying the source of the rumor. Now, it seems that journalists and the media have failed to remember that ethical reporting begins with being fair, accurate, honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
Apparently journalists want a “Watergate” story they can pin on President Trump and claim credit in bringing down the Trump presidency just as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s reporting brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon.
Even Woodward chastised the anti-Trump media bias. He called the alleged Russian dossier that precipitated the Mueller investigation “a garbage document.”
Steele Dossier Investigation Has Not Been Fully Covered by the Press
The Justice Department and the FBI paid for a dossier that had already been paid for by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee through a third party, called “Fusion GPS.” It was compiled by a former MI-6 intelligence operative named Christopher Steele, who utilized information gained through Russian intelligence agents and officials.
How did Steele’s dossier come to play such a prominent role in the Trump campaign? Perhaps it was the central evidence the DOJ and the FBI used to get a warrant through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to conduct surveillance on Trump and his key staff. Did the Obama administration target Trump by using the DOJ, the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies?
The DOJ, FBI and intelligence agencies have refused all requests for information. They have also stonewalled congressional oversite committees that have asked for all documents, individuals and other information regarding this matter.
Earlier this month, however, the Justice Department finally agreed to allow congressional investigators to interview a key FBI employee. This employee is believed to have served as Steele’s main contact.
We need a free and objective non-partisan press that can act as a watchman against the government. But when the media itself becomes the story and shows a partisan bias, our nation is in danger.